Two mainland sect members die in custody


Two more members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group have died in communist Chinese police custody and another with U.S. residency will go on trial for spying, a rights group said Tuesday.

Li Wenrui, a 37-year-old government trade official from the northeastern city of Harbin, died on Nov. 9 after his arrest three days earlier in Beijing for protesting the government crackdown on Falun Gong, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. Police said Li killed himself by jumping out a window, while his family suspects he was beaten to death, the Hong Kong-based center said.

Yang Guijin, 40, was arrested for distributing pamphlets and died Oct. 15 in the toilet of a detention center in eastern Shandong province after a week-long hunger strike to protest beatings by guards, the center said.

The deaths of Li and Yang raise to 70 the number of adherents who have died in detention since Falun Gong was banned last July, the center said.

And in an ominous turn for the government crackdown, Teng Chunyan, 37, a mainland Chinese passport holder with permanent resident status in the United States, will be put on trial Thursday at Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate Court for “gathering intelligence for an overseas organization,” the center said.

Although Falun Gong members with U.S. residency have until now usually been held for no more than a few days, Teng is the first to stand trial on charges of spying, which could bring a sentence of more than 10 years, the center said.

The center called the spying charges a government effort to intimidate sect members. The indictment said Teng broke the law by mailing information about Falun Gong overseas after arriving in China in March, the center said.

Beijing has used spying charges before to put away activists publicizing rural unrest and imprison a Muslim businesswoman from northwestern China for sending newspaper clippings to her husband in the United States.

The American Embassy in Beijing said it had no information on Teng, and prosecutors and courts refused to discuss the case.

Falun Gong attracted millions of members in the ‘90s with its health regimen and eclectic philosophy mixing Taoism, Buddhism and the ideas of its founder, former government grain clerk Li Hongzhi, now believed to be in the United States. Startled by the group’s size and organizational ability, Beijing accused it of posing a menace to followers and leading 1,500 to their deaths.